Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Critics in their Later Years

A diffuse style, effective in previous work where there was a strong sense of a cluster of ideas being brought together, here just lets the whole thing dangle like laundry tossed over a bed post. This seems to be a style of the critic who ascends from their particular niche and limited audience and become, over time , a public intellectual, a smart celebrity. Harold Bloom has been a conspicuous presence in the media for a good while, and years beyond his important books like the useful Anxiety of Influence and American Naturalism, his books have been increasing oracular, visionary, cloudy, full of pronouncements but stalling, hesitating, on a specific points.The last solid work by him was Shakespeare:The Invention of the Human, a provocative and entertaining assertion that what we consider to be the state and plight of Modern Man, a creature continually looking for meaning his actions and his ability to persist despite catastrophe, began with Shakespeare's writings. All our modern metaphors that demonstrate an existential void at the end of our philosophies come from The Bard's genius for making English mean new things.

A little pat, if you will (be leery of theories that account for everything that has befallen the race in it's grumpy history) , but with merit, and wisdom. Otherwise, though, Bloom has trailed off in his essays too many times, as in books like How to Read and Why or even his much lauded The Western Canon: he seems ready to offer us the keys to the kingdom before the cultivated quiver comes into his voice--I swear, I can hear when I read him. He leaves us hanging on a point while he references tropes and metaphors between authors and their works separated by centuries. Perhaps he does return to his points and makes his them clear and lucid, but often enough his writing in his late career leaves me filling in the blanks, interpreting, furnishing connecting paragraphs he didn't write in order to arrive at a semblance of coherent thought.

I don't think it's because Bloom is above my level--and I don't think the good professor is trying to get away with anything. I think it comes to a certain laziness on his part, running roughshod over older formulations, and laziness on his editor's part as well. They seem not to know how to encourage him to write a little more clearly.